Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Corset and Keeping Laced UP

A few months ago I stumbled upon this curious gadget in a thrift shop. The price was right at two dollars and the object itself was such an interesting thing that I had to have it.

The Amsley Waist Former

Mrs J. A. Amsley of Peoria Illinois

From many hours on Google and researching the maze of Google Patents, which is almost as entertaining as getting sucked into the YouTube vortex, I have not found the patent Mrs J. A. Amsley applied for. I did, however, find lots of similar versions which leads me to believe that keeping one's shirt tucked in was a major problem.

Mrs J. A, Amsley's Waist Former

(I have received an update from Linda Aylward, Special Collections Assistant from the Peoria Illinois Historical Society. Mrs. J. A. Amsley was Filena (Felina, Philena, Fene) Amsley.  The first time she is listed in the Peoria City Directory is in the 1881-1882 edition.  She worked as a saleslady for Schipper & Block department store.  The 1880 Federal Census lists her along with husband James A. (Albert) Amsley on Fayette Street.  She was born in Ohio ca. 1859.  From 1910-1921 the Amsley's lived at 513 N. Monroe.  He is listed as a traveling salesman.  The Illinois death index indicates that James died November 26, 1921 and Filena died January 28, 1930.)

Mrs J. A, Amsley's Waist Former

This little hook, about an inch and three-quarters in length, has a very sharp pin attached that opens 270 degrees. From the description, it appears that this little object will keep the shirt (waist) attached to the corset front AND hold the skirt waistband and belt in place as well. As I sit here in my jeans and pullover sweater I am not quite sure that marvel or dismay is the right word to describe how I am picturing this. I am old enough to remember the pre-pantyhose days of garter belts and girdles, so the mere idea that anyone would actually choose corsets to wear (for whatever reason) baffles me.

Turn of the Century Waist Formers Patent Applications

While researching these ingenious little gadgets I realized that another "tool" every woman had in her possession was the humble button hook, useful for buttoning shoes or corsets. I have my grandmother's hooks and matching manicure set. They are not in the pristine state they once were but they are beautiful nonetheless. 

Marion Iserman's Corset Hook

My Grandmother's Button Hook and Manicure Set

If you are curious about undergarments and the unique terminology you might enjoy this page from The Ladies Treasury of Costume and Fashion called an Overview of Underwear and please visit the page of free Historical Patterns to download.

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